Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

fied to be voters, jurymen, and bearers of all the ordinary responsibilities of citizenship. And here in these Schoolhouses all over the land, are awakened that hunger and thirst for knowledge in individual youthful minds that cannot be justly denied the opportunities of liberal or College education.

So the Common School, in a sense, creates the necessity for the College-itself to be in due time nourished and lifted up by means of it.

Ladies and Gentlemen : Let me say in conclusion that this subject of systematic education in this State—and I may say in this whole family of Pacific States—is one of most weighty importance. I have presented the field which the College occupies—and it is one of crowning moment—the whole educational experience of our country proves it to be so; and so are the other departments of our system important, and on the energy and force with which they are worked, depends the future of this noble country in which we live.

It is the mind of the people that is to constitute the people's character.

It is not the climate, or the fertility of the soil, or the richness of the mines, or the magnitude of its commerce, but it is the intelligence, cultivation, morality, and mental force of the people that are to make us great, respected, and happy, if we ever become go.

We are liable to depend too much on the affluence of our material resources. A State may be truly great without them, and it may be very far from being great, though it. possesses all of them.

“A few simple commanding traits, a dignified aim, a high conception of the true glory of a State, with a little land and water to work with, and you have a great nation."

Some of the most enlightened peoples of the world have wrought their great deeds within the limits of small territories, where they earned their bread by tilling unproductive soils, beneath unfriendly skies.

Remember Athens—for instance, Attica : “her area was not quite so large as our own Rhode Island, her mountain steeps sprinkled with dwarf oaks and fir trees, her sunburnt vallies covered with meagre herbage, her wintry torrents dried up in summer, her olive trees with their pale leaf and pliable branches ;" this was Greece ; but a people dwelt there of that “flexible, brave, and energetic character-80 prompt and full of resource that curiosity, perseverance, and fire, that love of Athens and glory, that subtlety of practical understanding, that unrivalled elegance of taste, that teeming and beautiful fancy—that they won for her in her own time the place of the first power of the world, and seated her, with a more rare felicity, on an intellectual throne from which no progress of the species may cast her down."

If so much has been accomplished by a single people, in an early age of the world, with narrow resources, without the aid of science or pure religion, (and this is by no means a solitary example,) how much may be justly expected of 18, surrounded as we are with all these, the very choicest advantages that have ever been conferred upon any people! With our great territory, our unrivalled climate, the riches of our material resources of every sort, with a youthful people blest with self-government, free speech, freedom of conscience, Free Schools, and free labor—what height of excellence can be imagined to which a people, starting with such advantages, ought not to aspire !

Furthermore, it should be remembered that in these initial years the foundations must be laid, if ever, for superior public excellence.

We are liable to overlook this. But the gauge of public virtue and the standard of intellectual attainment are soon set; and when once they are acknowledged and pass into habit, they are hard to change.

Now, therefore, is the deciding time of the most important matters.

Mr. Choate, in speaking once of the characteristic settler of the Atlantic coast, said : “He was, he felt himself to be--and here lay the felicity of his lot-he was in the very act of building up a new nation, where no nation was before. Every day it was changing its form under his eye, and under his hand. Instead of being born ignominiously into an established order of things, a recognized and stable State, his function he felt to be that rarer, more heroical-to plant, to found, to construct a new State upon the waste of Earth. He felt himself to be of the conditores imperiorum ; all this seemed to such a man, as he awoke in the morning, to depend appreciably on what he might do, or omit to do, before he laid his head on his pillow that very night!”.

And if there are characteristic settlers worthy of our time amongst us, the day will come when very much the same will be said of them.

We may not see it now. We may be too busy in the midst of the vexatious details of daily life to take into view the whole bearing of what we may and ought to be doing; but it is nevertheless true that it is our lot to be living when and where it is our business to “plant, to form, to construct.” We, also, are called to be of the “ conditores imperiorum," and it is true, whether it so “seems" to us or not, that something of this work depends appreciably on what we may do, or omit to do, between our awaking in the morning and laying the head upon the pillow at night, on any and every day!

And it is true, if for no other reason, simply because it is ours to “plant,” to “ found," and to shape the institutions that are to determine the character of this forming State. The choices that we make in matters of permanent moment cannot be changed in aftertime. The plans we form cannot be set aside by and by, and replaced by others. They can only be worked out, perhaps with modifications, but in substance the same.

This applies to every thing that goes to form our civilization, but it applies to nothing more emphatically, than to our system of education.

The time was, fpr example, when it was a sharply debated question, whether this city should or should not adopt the system of Free Common Schools.

You can see, to-day, very plainly, what vast interests hinged upon that decision. The whole educational policy of the State, as it is now developing, was substantially determined then.

It is so far settled, that it does not now seem as if it had ever been in debate ; but some of us remember well when it was so, and that in earnest. Now, since our system of education with respect to Common Schools is chosen, and has passed into the acknowledged acceptance and habit of the people, it has only to be worked out, improved, and perfected.

But the business of choosing and determining hitherto has been a work characteristic of the time. We are doing similar things continually. We are surveying the routes, and fixing the grades, and laying the tracks on which the trains of future progress must run !

And it is plainly true, that those who are working directly on the mind of the country as educators, and are founding the institutions of learning that are to determine the standard of our future intellectual attainment, are employed upon that which enters into the very life of the public welfare.

It is instructed, purified, virtuous, ennobled mind alone that can use the great resources of this coast aright-turning them to Christian, patriotic, and philanthropic purposes-not yielding to the tendency which the very affluence of these resources constitutes, to awaken an inordinate desire for individual wealth and personal aggrandisement.

Therefore, let this work be pushed to the utmost. Let us not only refuse to suffer

ourselves to be behind in intelligence and cultivation, but let us resolve to open the way for these States to become foremost in these things.

Let us carefully shape our system of education, perfecting it in all its departments, Primary, Academic, Collegiate, Professional, and Scientific-let us build the necessary institutions, and co-operate with a generous liberality for the accomplishment of our grand undertaking; and the work we thus commence will be taken up by those who come after us, and, borne on as the State matures, till this whole Pacific slope shall be inhabited by a refined, intelligent, and Christian people.

CONCERNING COMMON SENSE IN TEACHING.

AN ADDRESS

DELIVERED BEFORE THE CALIFORNIA STATE TEACHERS' INSTITUTE, ON TUESDAY, MAY 5TH, 1863, BY JOHN SWETT, SUPERIN

TENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION.

It is one of the highest compliments we can pay a man to say that he possesses good common sense. The article in question is certainly one of the most important qualifications of a successful Teacher. Call it “tact,” or “knack," or "faculty,” or “gift," or whatever you please, it implies always a clear conception of things as they exist, and an adaptation of means to the end sought.

In broaching this subject, I feel that I may place myself in the situation of the learned divine, whose third and principal division of his discourse was “concerning that of which we know nothing.” We do not propose to treat of a course of instruction for graded Schools, where children are presumed to be in regular attendance for a series of years, and where provision is made for a specific course of learning for all the faculties of the mind; but to consider briefly those Schools remote from cities, and continued only a part of the year. What are they expected to accomplish, and what view should the common sense Teacher take of his field of labor? Many of our Public Schools, in the sparsely settled districts of the State, are kept less than six months in the year, and even then the attendance is irregular and inconstant. Pupils may be expected to attend School from the age of six to fourteen ; and allowing six months attendance in each year—a high average when one-fourth attend only three months of the year—the actual time at School will be reduced to four years. The question propounded by common sense is : What course of instruction will impart the greatest amount of useful information, and best fit the children for the duties of common life?

Now, hardly any course of study or mental exercise can be sought out which shall be utterly useless. The driest and dullest style of memorizing musty text books, and the most parrot-like verbatim recitations, involve some thought, and are not without some advantages. The thoughtful man of wealth, who, in order that his son should not grow in idleness, compelled him to wheel a huge pile of stones from one part of his garden to another, and then wheel them back again, and so kept him wheeling them back and forth each day of the year, was wiser than the parent who allows his son to do nothing. But it would have been more sensible in the man of wealth had he set his boy at work upon some useful labor, which would have interested his attention, instead of keeping him engaged in unprofitable drudgery.

I cannot help thinking that sometimes in our Schools we set the boys to wheeling

stones, instead of building walls, or clearing fields for future harvests. For instance, keeping a boy for years drilling on the stereotype forms of solving Mental Arithmetic, committing a great mass of routine verbiage, when he ought to learn the simple forms of Written Arithmetic used in business life, is undoubtedly “wheeling stones." The boy may repeat the “solution,” and the “forms," and the conclusion,” and the “ therefores," and “wherefores,” with a marvellous skill, and yet it is not commonsense teaching. A man was brought before an Eastern king, and extolled by the courtiers for his wonderful powers of endurance, because he could stand on one leg for twenty-four hours. A goose can stand longer than that,” said the king.

When, in School, we teach boys and girls the abstract rules and scientific mysteries and technicalities of grammar, training them skilfully to analyze complex and involved sentences, but omitting to teach them by daily practice how to express common thoughts in correct English, or how to talk correctly in ordinary conversation, without using provincialisms or cant phrases—what are we doing but keeping them “wheeling stones," and feeding on husks beside ?

When children study for years the columns of uncommon and obsolescent words piled up in perpendicular obelisks, staring them in the face like huge exclamation marks of wonder and surprise, and then leave School unable to write a list of articles wanted from the corner grocery without exciting the risibilities of the groceryman, or are unable to write a friendly letter without offending the eye by misspelling the commonest words—what have they been doing but “wheeling stones?" And when these same ambitious scholars are allowed to shoulder Algebra, and meddle with French, and Spanish, and skirmish around the advanced studies, they are, indeed, carrying the stones without a wheelbarrow.

So when scholars are kept forever drilling on elementary principles and minute particulars, it is not in accordance with common sense. " Be thorough," is a good maxim; but there is such a thing as being too thorough-of dwelling on particulars, to the neglect of essentials. A Teacher may be painfully particular, like a good aunt of mine, years ago, who was so distressingly neat that nobody ever took any comfort in her house.

In Arithmetic, for instance, it is keeping a boy wheeling stones “ to discipline his mind” a month in learning to explain in due form the reason of "inverting the divisor in dividing one fraction by another," if thereby he should fail to learn how to write a prommissory note, compute simple interest, or make out a bill. A Teacher from a graded city School would fail in an unclassified School, should he attempt to apply the same test of thoroughness, or to pursue the same exact course of study. Certain results must be obtained, to the sacrifice of many particulars which are all good in themselves. One great reason why self-educated men are practical workers, is that they learn nothing 'they do not want to use, and so learn it well. Concentration gives them strength. Napoleon dispensed with tents and luggage in his great armies, taking only what he wanted to use--the sword and the bayonet.

It seems to me--and the conclusion has been growing stronger each year, during twelve years' experience in Public School teaching—that no small part of what children are required to learn might appropriately be beaded : Things worth forgetting." Nature is wiser than we are, and casts off the useless surplus of facts and figures into utter oblivion. Run through an ordinary School geography, and see how many bushels of chaff to a single grain of wheat. Look at the compendious arithmetics, strike out nine tenths of which, and the remainder would be more than sufficient. Look at the bulky grammars, grown fat by feeding on all other grammars printed since Lindley Murray's, of wbicb, not even the authors could carry in their head a moiety. Look at the School histories of our country, full to repletion of dates and chronological tables, containing more of details than any grown man in the United States could learn in a lifetime. I allude to these only to show how much a Teacher must omit in the School

[ocr errors]
« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »